Many companies are still in the pilot phase for social media, mostly launching unstructured social media campaign efforts. And even the companies that have truly embraced conversations, still use pilot projects to test, learn and grow. In general, we could define several (beneficial) characteristics of pilot projects:
- Experimenting: Let’s just do it. Pilots are for experimenting, for testing hunches, for following your gut. Pilots are great ways to probe new waters and experiment in existing ones. Pilots are a great reason to do things you wouldn’t normally do.
- Learning: I deliberately mention this separate from experimenting. Where many companies experiment, less take the effort to really learn from pilots. They fail to be clear in expectations, settings goals and targets and measuring them. Still, learning is extremely important.
- Outpost: Because it’s ‘just’ a pilot, most projects can and should be more edgy and less in the company comfort zone.
- Funding: Pilot projects are limited in scope and run, which makes it easier to have a limited budget and get ‘play money’ from different parts of an organisation.
- Politics: Because it’s ‘just’ a limited pilot, different internal politcal rules seems to be applied. Pilots are both a powerfull political instrument for managers to build a reputation and easily down-played when political heat rises. E.g. “Let’s just skip the legal department this time, it’s just a pilot. When they noticed, the pilot is already finsihed.”
- Change management: One of the more hidden, but best elements is the instrument of change aspect of pilots. Because they are more edgy, it will stretch people’s notice of what can be done and what works.
As mentioned, it is extremely tempting to approach pilot projects as isolated efforts, especially for large corporations. Pilot projects are usually killed anyway. Unsuccessfull pilots are killed because they are unsuccessfull. Successfull pilots don’t live long either. The agency that facilitated the pilot went over budget, the internal corporate champion of the project got a new job, the pilot project owners failed to share the wins of the pilot with the organization, the focus of the organization changed or there just isn’t enough support to continue the project on a larger scale.
So, if we really want to integrate pilot projects in a more tactical and strategic way and really want to make sure we make pilots instruments of change, we have to define several types of KPI’s for our pilot projects and be maniacal in measuring them:
- Intrinsic project KPI’s: Every pilot has it’s KPI’s. E.g. The KLM Surprise campaign was built to drive traffic towards the KLM Facebook and Twitter accounts and test the limitations and possibilites of location-based social network Foursquare.
- Learning KPI’s: What is the exact knowledge we want to gather from this pilot? Do you want to learn about a specific tool? Do you want to benchmark conversion rates? Do you want to test your organization? Be sure to be clear about what you want to learn, this makes it even easier to proof the return on investment on your pilot project.
- Change management KPI’s: As mentioned before, pilots are great ways to change an organization. Especially when you’re considering to proceed on the probed path, you want to make sure next steps will be supported by several internal stakeholders.
- Personal change: How can we change specific people? What metrics would help convince them to support other projects in the future? What KPI’s should we meet to make sure the project in their perception is successfull? Different people within an organization have different agenda’s. So your own KPI’s might not apply to the KPI’s of other department or other managers. Make sure you gather the right info and build a strong case to support future steps.
- Structural change: How can we change the structure of an organisation? E.g. The ashcloud eventually made clear to many KLM managers that webcare should be an important part of their customer service. A unforseen pilot during the ashcloud problems, where from one day to the other, a team of online customer care employees was installed to help stranded passengers, exceeded their expectations and made them realize they should install a permanent webcare team to help customers via Facebook, Twitter and other channels.
- Cultural change: How can we change the mindset of (parts of the) organization? E.g. I worked for a company that launched a beta product that, for many employees, changed the thought on how they ‘should’ launch a product. Before, they might have never considered launching a product that actually needs consumers to make it better.
Pilot projects are relatively easy to implement and can have great impact. Leverage their value to learn and change an organization into a conversation company. Go beyond general project KPI’s and define learning and change management KPI’s to capitalize more on the pilot projects you are already doing.